Playing Games | A Short Story

The Shadow can hear the wet sound of a tongue licking a dry lip or the tiny flick of an index finger scrapping the cuticle of a thumb. With no eyes and no nose, it relies on its heightened hearing to track its prey. It flows like liquid smoke back and forth in front of a small rocky waterfall, its arms and legs are sweeping willow branches made of darkness.

Faven’s knees and thighs ache from sitting cross-legged on the cold, wet stone floor. It’s been hours since she’d run into this cramped spot, hiding within the sound of the rushing water. She can see the Shadow moving through the blurry wall, its distorted blackness plunging her from light to dark as it paces. It knows she’s nearby.

Soaked from the icy mist, Faven knows she can’t stay here much longer. She presses her translucent wings, tied close to her body with a piece of soft white rope, hard into the jagged rocks behind her to stop them from quivering and giving her away. She shouldn’t have come here.

A loud ripping blast, the sound of wood being shattered, roars through the night. The Shadow’s inky black shape stops moving and its elongated body stands silhouetted by hundreds of dancing red sparks. The fragrant sugary smell of burning petals floats into the cave, the smell of the pink lyndol tree, and Faven covers her mouth to prevent herself from coughing.

The Shadow presses its hands onto the place hips might be, a stance Faven would find comical if she wasn’t so terrified. Two more explosions echo around her, followed by a blast of hot wind which roars through the cave and singes her eyebrows. She needs to cough but swallows it back. Her throat burns.

The Shadow slinks toward the fire, roaring in all directions. Faven watches it swallow up the smoke as it goes, sucking it up with big gulping sounds, the hungry eye of a tornado. She crawls on hands and knees keeping her eyes on its black shape until she can push her hot face into the cold water. Pulling back, she catches the icy liquid into her cupped hands and takes several long gulps.

Faven removes a three-inch green knife the shape of an elongated leaf from her leather belt and swipes up to cut the rope. Her wings spring out and flap back and forth swirling the pink vapor until it forms a whirlpool around her. She presses through the smoke and the water, out the entrance of the cave, and straight up into the still night sky. Stars shine above and around her, wishes made into balls of brilliance to twinkle for all time as beacons of hope.

Savoring the feeling of the wind pressing into the curves along the thin membranes of her wings, Faven circles above the burning trees. Her long brown braid has come loose and thick strands of hair whip at her cheeks and eyes. She searches the forest for her friends.

Apollo, dressed in his favorite green argyle suit, presses through the forest blasting trees with a long, twisting staff made of dark redwood. It looks too big for his small hands and Faven wonders where it came from. He’s pale and chanting something under his breath. His short black hair, wet with sweat, sticks to his head.

Luz runs beside him holding a small hand mirror of tarnished gold, an object Faven has never seen before. Streaks of yellow light flow from its shimmery surface to create a crisscrossing web around the two of them. She’s wearing a pinafore of pale pink and her curly blonde hair has been pulled up into two puffs at the top of her head.

Both of their wings are tied back with a white rope to conserve energy. They are moving further into the woods, away from the Fae towns to the West and East. Faven can’t see the Shadow but knows it’s not far behind.

“Up here!” She calls to them, but they don’t hear her.

With a burst of energy, she flies ahead, landing in a field of weeds and wildflowers just a moment before her friends appear through the tree line. They smile as she tucks in between them, running in a line together across the field and down a small hill toward the foul-smelling waters of the brine lake.

“I told you to go home,” Faven says.

“You’re welcome,” Apollo says.

“Hi!” Luz says.

“Where did you get those?” Faven says.

She points at the items her friends clutch in their hands, the gnarled staff, and the antique mirror. Although all three of them have portfolios of skills far greater than most 10-year-olds, nobody would trust them with such powerful magical artifacts. They are the orphans of the temple, the forgotten children of the Fae, and nobody gives them such expensive gifts. Apollo laughs.

“Stole them,” he says.

“Borrowed them,” Luz says. “From the Fae High School.”

“Nobody saw us,” Apollo says. “We were stealthy little rats.”

“I’m no rat,” Luz says. “More like a colorful chameleon or a snowy owl.”

A sudden sharp crunching sound causes them to spin around. The Shadow, free from the smoke and fire, moves toward them with impossibly long strides. Streaking, sneaking, sliding across the ground, closing the gap between them within moments with slick untiring movement. The clicking sound of its gnashing teeth comes from the center of its black body, making all three of them shiver.

“Go!” Faven says. “It only wants me.”

“There’s no time to argue this again,” Apollo says. “We aren’t leaving you.”

“We fight together,” Luz says.

Faven appreciates their loyalty but wishes they’d simply go home. She’s the one who woke up the creature and she’s the one it wants. It was her stupid idea to draw the pentagram in the forbidden woods and call forth the Shadow. They were simply witnesses to her incredible foolishness.

She grew up hearing the bards sing of her mother—a raven-haired beauty who fought with twin golden blades while her baby suckled at her breasts. She defeated packs of horned drooling beasts from the center of the Earth with a fierceness said to have been forged by her years of solitude within the forbidden forest. She died when Faven was two-years-old, poisoned by a former lover.

Faven wants a chance to do something brave, to be something more than the orphaned trouble-maker the Elders make scrub the stone temples with wire brushes to keep her small hands busy. Everyone expects more of her, yet no matter how hard she tries, she’s the one who ruins everything.

She tried to create a fantastic dessert made of strubel berries harvested under the full moon for the summer feast but ended up setting fire to the kitchen when her cooking spell backfired. She collected an assortment of exotic and strange-looking flowers for her crown at the spring dance, but a seed pod exploded a few minutes after the music began and the smell made everyone sick. Last week she’d been showing off her flying skills in the garden and thought it would be impressive to fly through a large open window into the great hall, spin around, and come back out. She accidentally knocked over a magical corked vase. It broke and filled the hall with rainbow-colored rain. They still haven’t been able to stop it.

Faven didn’t think the stories of the Shadow were real. She’d heard them for years but believed they were told by the Elders as another way to control her and keep her grounded. Her mother lived in the forbidden forest alone for over a decade, so the story goes, and she thought maybe the Shadow would know her. Really, if she’s being honest with herself, she thought the Shadow might be her. It’s why she took the risk and performed the summoning spell, but now she’s ruined everything. Her friends might die because of her. The thought instantly fills her with dread.

“What do we do?” Luz says.

Without slowing, Faven removes her knife and carefully slashes the ropes holding back their wings. She grabs their hands and as they reach the edge of the lake and all three of them rise into the night sky as one. Apollo blasts the ground below them and Luz holds the mirror out to cast the net of protective light.

The Shadow, confused, circles below them making its horrible clicking sound. It won’t hesitate for long and it can fly. Faven has seen it spiral around the forest, swirling like an autumn leaf, sniffing for her. It won’t give up and it’s faster and stronger than all of them.

Apollo and Luz are red-faced and sweaty. Faven can feel them trembling and she tightens her grip on their free hands. They are getting tired, the magical weapons are draining them of all their energy. They are running out of time.

“Where do we go?” Luz says.

“We can’t go home or to the villages,” Faven says. “It will follow me wherever I go and put everyone in danger.”

“I know a place,” Apollo says. “But I don’t know if I can make it.”

“Show me,” she says.

On Faven’s 9th birthday, after blowing out the candle the Elders put in her morning bowl of oatmeal, she reached out and touched Luz’s hand. An image of a package wrapped in pink cotton flashed into her mind. It was sitting under the sink in the kitchen beside the big blue bottle of cleaner. She jumped from her chair and ran into the kitchen and pulled it out.

“Hey,” Luz said. “That was supposed to be a surprise for tonight!”

“But you wanted me to have it now,” Faven said.

“I did!” Luz said.

A feeling, like a blush, rushed through her body—she could read minds! After experimenting with her friends, she discovered it wasn’t mind-control or a way to captivate the mind of others, but rather a one-way guidance system allowing her to retrieve information given freely by someone she trusts. So far, she’s mostly used it to gossip and pass math tests. However, right now, she hopes it will allow her to lead her friends to safety.

Apollo nods and presses an image through their connected hands—an abandoned Eagle nest perched high in one of the ancient rendel trees. It’s covered with fertile tangry mushrooms, strong and pungent. If they can make it there, the scents will protect them for the night.

“I’ll get us there,” Faven says.

Flapping her wings as hard as she can, Faven pulls her friends away from the lake and back into the dense trees of the forbidden forest. There’s a sweeping sound behind her and she’s certain the Shadow has taken flight. She dips and dives, pulling her friends with her, using all of her strength and skill to swerve up, down, and around. 

The nest sits exactly where Apollo showed her and she swoops down into it landing on a smelly pile of discarded eggshells, layers of white bird poop, and hundreds of the fat dark brown tangry mushrooms. The fetid stench makes all three of them gag as they lay on their sides catching their breath. The Shadow swoops past them and disappears into the forest.

“You saved us,” Luz says after a few minutes of silence.

“For now,” Faven says. “He won’t give up. Go home! Please. I can’t be responsible for your deaths. I won’t be able to live with myself.”

“This again?” Apollo says. “We aren’t discussing it. There’s no home without you and we stick together. There’s no other way. We are one.”

“We won’t leave you,” Luz agrees. “You can’t get rid of us.”

Faven nods but doesn’t agree. Her friends curl up beside her, three tiny children folding into one another as they do every night in their tiny bed at the top of the temple. Fatigue overpowers the smell and the fear, allowing the warmth of their bodies to melt into the oblivion of dreamless sleep. The rendel tree, the oldest of the trees in the woods, rocks them gently as the night wind sweeps across the fairylands.

Dreams swirl in and out of focus for Faven, gentle sweet images of honey, flowers, and tiny butterflies dancing between her fingertips. Her mother’s face appears above her, bronze-skinned with wide eyes the color of the deepest part of the sea. She hovers with thin milky white wings, flapping them slowly, creating a sweet-smelling breeze Faven feels like kisses upon her cheek. She wants to cry out to her mother, to speak to her, but she’s unable to do anything but look at her. Her deep black hair flows around her face, waves of dark strands flowing nearly vertical from her now unsmiling face. Inky blackness swirls into her hair, mixing with it.

With a flash of panic, Faven opens her eyes and finds it’s still night. She’s not too late. Peeling herself from her friends, she moves to the edge of the nest, hangs her legs over, and tries to remember the story of the Shadow. 

Birthed at the dawn of time, it is made out of the hallowed madness left in the wake of its mother—death. A cousin of torment, it was captured by the ancient forest and allowed to dwell below the roots of rotten trees. It can be woken, brought to the surface, by those knowing the ancient ritual and calling its name. Once called forth, however, it won’t return to the soil until it kills the soul of its summoner.

Faven must die. There’s no loophole and until she dies her friends are in terrible danger. She stretches her wings out behind her, flapping them three times to allow blood to flow into the soft folds before falling out of the nest head first. Swooping over the trees, she calls the Shadow forth using its sacred name. It appears within moments and she swoops to the forest floor to greet it.

“No!” Apollo screams.

She sees Apollo spiraling down behind her and watches as the Shadow twists and changes directions in mid-air. Within seconds, hardly a breath, it reaches Apollo and dives through his small body. The color instantly drains from his face and Favin screams. She takes flight and catches his falling figure, the impact causing them both to crash land into a pile of soft brown bark.

Luz lands without a sound on a low tree branch near the sobbing Favin. She hangs upside down by her knees, a silent bat in a cave. Teary-eyed Favin runs her hand through Apollo’s black hair and kisses his soft cheeks.

“It’s all a game,” she says. “Just a game.”

The Shadow lands beside her and when she turns to face it the long, low sound of a bell rings through the air. It lasts several moments, and as it vibrates through the forest, the trees disappear leaf by leaf. Luz jumps down from the green metal bar and lands beside her.

“The bell rang,” she says.

Apollo stands and laughs. He grabs Favin by the hand and pulls her from the bark. She blinks, tears still in her eyes.

“I didn’t really die,” he says. “Because I’m not done playing the game. It’s not fair.”

“We can figure it out next recess,” Luz says. “Maybe we find a rejuvenation spell or something.”

“Yeah.”

Favin stops and looks at the two kids in front of her. Apollo’s wearing faded blue pants and a green shirt with some kind of creature on the front with big teeth and tiny arms. Luz wears a dress of bright yellow with rainbows covering her legs. Both are wearing shoes with metal circles and crisscrossing white strings.

“Are you okay?” Luz says.

“I don’t know,” Favin says.

“I’m not dead,” Apollo says again. “Okay, guys? It’s not fair.”

“Okay,” Luz says. “We heard you the first time! We wouldn’t kill you off, right Favin?”

“Right,” she says.

The three of them hook arms and walk across the hard, cracked grey earth toward short buildings painted blue and white. Kids stand in lines talking, pushing, and laughing. Favin doesn’t mind this new game at all.

After School | A Triolet

she’s waiting for me when the bell rings
faded yellow sweater smelling of home
unknown to me except in dreams, no wings
she’s waiting for me when the bell rings
my name upon her lips she does sing
with bluest eyes framed by glasses of chrome
she’s waiting for me when the bell rings
faded yellow sweater smelling of home

Mother’s Love | A Nonet

my mother knows every inch of me
her child from any time or place
we fold into each other
her arms a warm blanket
of protection from
the bad dreams of
shadowy
death
my mother heals every inch of me

Author’s note: If you’ve been around this blog for some time you’ve probably realized my love of fairies and fantasy. This week, my story was inspired by the elaborate games I watched my daughter play with her friends at school. They had one storyline they played for over a year, adding more and more backstory and adventure. I thought, what if the game was real and the main character wished it to not be and was instead transported to a playground. It’s a bit of a twist on the “it was all a dream” plot, and one I hope you enjoyed. Thanks for reading, and as always, I’d love to know what you think in the comments below.


Short Story Challenge | Week 18

Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story where a child’s dream literally becomes true. We had to include the high school, captivate, portfolio, argyle, witness, fertile, eyebrow, pentagram, thirsty, and guidance.


Write With Us

Next week’s prompt: An alien in disguise among humans

Include: Aurora Borealis, paintbrush, cornfield, cluster, lineup, overlook, suspect, bridge, dome, dash


My 52 Week Challenge Journey

The Red-Haired Beauty | A Short Story

Jasper’s yelling at me again. His puffy face so close to mine I can smell the tobacco tucked into his cheek and see how the sweat dripping off his bald head has formed snaking rivers in his makeup. He’s accusing me of being sloppy, but I never am.

“Girl, I’ve about had it with you,” he says. “Your dismount was wobbly and your feet looked like flat clubs. How many times have I told you to point your toes?”

There’s no way I can answer the question without making him angrier. I wish I could say, “at least I can see my toes.” He leans back on his heels, his thick right hand swings forward and for a moment I think he might slap me. It wouldn’t be the first time and I wonder if I could catch his wrist with my hand. I’m a lot stronger than I used to be. He spits a gob of black spit at my bare feet and I leap back. He laughs.

“Get out of my sight,” he says.

He’s off to get sloppily drunk on fat, yellow bottles of chartreuse he keeps in a round steamer trunk inside his tent. It takes two of the strong men to carry it from the train. He’ll have some of the young acrobats in his bed tonight performing tricks for him, and on him. Does he applaud after? At least I’m too old for him to want me anymore. He likes them young, with smooth skin.

Turning in the opposite direction of his tent, I weave my way through the maze of our makeshift portable city toward the far end where the animals are kept. My partner Dusty, a grey-speckled gelding I’ve been trick-riding for the last few months, will be waiting for me to put on his blanket and give him oats sprinkled with bran. 

One of the many barefooted kids hanging around the tents walked Dusty back to his stall after our act so I could try and get some food. The cook locks everything up an hour after the show and I’ve grown tired of rummaging through the garbage bins because I don’t make it in time. Tonight I was lucky and got a bowl of lukewarm stew with several pieces of meat.

The energy after the show can vary, but tonight it’s mellow. We have three more shows tomorrow and everyone knows they must conserve their energy. It never gets fully quiet in the camp, but there are small pockets of it. The shadow thing lives in those silent places, and I rush from sound to sound to avoid being alone with it. I don’t have many memories left for it to steal. I wonder if I used to know its name.

Dusty snorts as I approach, pawing the sandy, soft ground in his makeshift stall. The ocean roars in the distance, the air cool and sweet. I lean against the wooden fence and press my face to his soft muzzle, savoring his earthy breath on my face.

“Red!”

RJ runs toward me with two buckets in his hands, sloshing water everywhere. The muscles on his tanned back and chest are shiny and covered in glitter. He drops the buckets at my feet and I stare at the heart-shaped mole on his left cheek, a lucky fairy kiss. Perhaps that’s how he can walk the tightrope with such skill.

“Did ya hear?” he says. “Sasha ran off! Nobody can find her nowhere. Jasper’s gonna kill somebody.”

I scan the places between the tents as if the skeletally thin frame of the tan and black cheetah might be lurking in the spaces between the flapping colorful fabric walls. She’s one of the older animals in the show and it seems unlikely she’d run off. RJ smiles at me, leaning close enough I can smell he’s eaten something sweet. He doesn’t look the least bit scared.

“When did it happen?” I ask.

“No idea, but I know I ain’t sleeping in my tent tonight.”

“She won’t hurt you.”

“I don’t take no chances with this body. I’m gonna string a tarp up in the trees and you can slip in beside me if ya want.”

He winks, picks up his buckets, and runs off. I’m pretty sure cheetahs can climb trees. I press my toes into the wet spot the buckets left behind, feeling the cooling effect it has on my body. The men are always wanting me to “slip beside them,” even with my scars.

The sound of angry voices fills the night, blowing and hopping from shadows to light, from tent to tent. I can make out snippets of words forming into insults, accusations, and threats. Jasper’s angry growl sounds nearby and I jump. RJ’s right, someone will die if Sasha isn’t found and it might be me.

Jasper used to adore me, back when people flocked to see the Red-Haired Beauty ride Enormous Horace around the center ring. I had five huge trunks of costumes—silver and gold glittery jumpsuits, elaborate feathery headpieces, and exotic silk scarves. The cook would bring me trays of food and I slept on piles of soft cushions in the main tent beside Horace, my best friend. Jasper wishes I’d died in the fire with him, and sometimes I do too.

The dark shadowy thing lurks behind a barrel. Its spidery legs stretch across the ground toward me. What would happen if it swallowed all my memories? Would I die? The high-pitch trumpeting sound echoes inside my chest, as it has since the day Horace saved me but not himself. I touch the patches of thick pink skin on my arms and legs, wrinkled skin like him. The pain of loss shudders through me.

The voices are closer now. Climbing through the wooden fence, I swing my body onto the back of Dusty in one practice motion. His thick back twitches, ears flatten and his tail swishes back and forth. Beams of light come toward us in the darkness, and the thing by the barrels slinks away. I bend down and flip open the gate.

“Run,” I whisper into Dusty’s ears.

He doesn’t hesitate, springing forth like the starved race dogs when they are finally released from their smelly-cramped boxes and made to run the track for food. Jasper knows the amount of time it takes to make an animal desperate enough to run as fast as they can, but not too far gone they are lethargic or will fight one another. He plays with people the same way.

We weave in and out of the tents and past the pens holding the other animals. I consider flipping all the latches as I pass, but not all the animals want to be free. Jasper screams my name, and I consider calling back “I’m going to look for Sasha,” but it’s not true. At least I don’t think it is. I haven’t decided yet.

The sound of the ocean, faint in the campsite, becomes louder the further we ride. Resting my head on Dusty’s neck, I let him run where he wants. The rhythm of his hooves on the ground relaxes us both and allows my thoughts to wander back and forth in time. Memories mix with the night sky, bright spots of light in a sea of darkness, cliffhangers of thought, unfinished and grey. I can count on my fingers the number of complete memories I have left.

The moon, bright and round, interrupts my thoughts as if whispering “pay attention.” We are at the shoreline now, the dark waves moving in and out with foamy breath I can see and smell. Sliding off Dusty, I watch him wander toward a patch of wild grass, tough seedlings survived by wind and water. He tears at them with his large white teeth.

A tall, slender lighthouse stands perched on the edge of a rocky cliff far off to my right. A silhouetted figure against the black casting its sweeping gold beam into the night to warn ships of the jagged shoreline. I’d like to swim into the light and see if the creatures of the sea swarm up toward it, tricked into thinking daylight has become a fleeting line across the top of the water. They probably know better than I do.

Walking along the shore, I dance in and out of the waves, my old pink leotard shedding its sequins in a trail behind me. A large porous black rock covered with sea creatures lays exposed by the retreating tide with a deep ring of water around it. Leaning in, I see tiny darting crabs, a plump purple starfish, and rows of soft green sea anemones.

A constellation of stars reflected in the water reminds me of the jewels Horace wore around his neck. I touch them and the water ripples out from my fingertips. I miss him. A torrent of hot tears streaks down my cheeks and drips into the water. I watch them as they plunk loudly and form into tiny balls of light pulsing and moving in circles. They are alive, my tears, little balls of rainbow-colored light.

Scooping them into my hands, I find they are heavy and wiggly. Startled, I let them plop back into the still water and watch as they swim around and around. Tiny fish dart from hiding places in the rock to nibble at my tears. Are they saltier than the ocean?

Picking one up, I put it into my mouth. It tastes sweet, like puffed spun candy on a stick. It slides into my stomach and a fresh memory floats up from some hidden part inside me. Bright-green eyes and golden hair singing a lullaby of light—I was loved once. Sinking down into the sand, savoring the sound of her voice, the word mother glows golden within me. 

Greedy, I begin shoving the tears into my mouth, eating and eating, letting the images come in blasts and bursts. Forgotten faces, sounds, and tastes dance around me—treasures of time returned and restored in full color and sound. The sensation makes me tired, and I fall backward into the sand pushed into a deep sleep.

As if through a thick fog, I’m aware of my body being dragged out of the cool water and into the warm sand. Blinking and blinking, I can make out the shape of Dusty using his teeth to pull me across the beach by my now torn leotard.

“It’s okay,” I say.

Dusty lets go, whinnies, and paws the ground beside me. I sit up. Awareness prickles down my arms and legs, bringing everything around me into bright focus. The tide has risen high enough to almost fully cover the rock I was laying beside—its black peak sits like a tiny pyramid surrounded by roaring waves. The sun has begun rising, transforming everything from the white light of the moon to the golden pink of the sun.

Dusty snorts close to my ear and I look up to see people coming in a line down the beach carrying dying torches. They are still too far away to make them out, but I know it’s my circus family looking for Sasha and possibly me. For a brief moment I consider calling to them, but I remember the truth the memories revealed. They aren’t my family.

Running through the sand, I leap onto Dusty’s back and kick his sides with both feet. He gallops along the water’s edge before turning toward the shore. We scramble up two sand dunes until we arrive at a wide dirt road heading off in both directions. He stops and we see the long-lanky figure of Sasha walk slowly across the road. She looks at me, blinks twice, and then disappears into the bushes.

Dusty turns and walks down the road to the right and I run my hands along his neck. My real name is Gillian and I had a family before the darkness came and took their faces from me. They are still out there and I’m going to find them.


I’m dipping my toes into the poetry world and felt inspired to write these poems looking deeper at the magic hinted at in the story.

Bubbles I

Saliva pools inside puffed pink cheeks as the 
squishy bubble bursts between molars, exploding 
juices down my scratchy throat. Burning it fizzles
inside; soda pop madness, sweet as jars of candy 
swiped from dark corner shops while peers sit
behind rows of school desks. Her face, the one
swallowed by the slinky shadow creature while I walked 
unknowing into the wrong silent place, comes 
now with painful throbbing to sing words I’d heard
long ago but forgotten, and to brush the stray hairs off 
my sticky cheek with soft fingertips. The thoughts of love 
once mine, unasked for but given anyway, are pinpricks
of pain, nerves awakening after pinched off so long, messages
to tell my body to really feel. I stuff more into my mouth, craving
sensations of the forgotten, much too much, but oh
how my true name echoes and changes everything.

Bubbles II

Plucked from our icy home deep within 
the salty brine of life’s starting place, we 
slumber in grains of sand tinier than eyes can 
perceive. Minute flecks of light, rays of sun
mixed with moonlight, we live far below 
scuttling claws and slippery flippers. You called us 
forth in an instant, brought by proximity
to the shadow of the shadows mark upon
your soft imperfect body. We saw you weeping 
into our waters and felt compelled to stir 
and rise. We exist, persist, to seek balance 
between all things. Shifting, we move matter within 
moments with forces older than time, faster than 
light and sound. You can’t see until we let you 
the realness of your truth. The faces and moments 
feasted upon and stolen from you within the sacred 
silence it lurks behind. Teasing, we form 
into physical shapes, tempting you to taste of your 
life, plopped into waiting warm mouths, sliding
into the depths of bone and muscle, wiggling
and writhing—alive. We unleash captured memories
to dance on the surface of your consciousness, tangos 
of truth you knew but which it hid within the folds of time.


Author’s note: While at the ocean last week I messaged Anna I needed to go have a great big cry beside the water. She said something about my tears mixing with the saltwater and the image stuck. I imagined my tears becoming little fish in the water nibbling at my toes, and wondered if they could be some kind of mythical creature. The idea felt magical and I played around with it in my head for a few days.

The more I sat with the story, the main character no longer was me, but rather a girl running away from the circus. This thought bloomed, fed by a story I heard on NPR about Horace, an elephant at the Kyiv Zoo. I took nothing from the podcast story except his name and the sensitive nature of elephants, but I’d highly recommend you read about the bravery of those zoo workers to stay in a war zone to care for the animals.

I find myself wanting to know about Gilly and the forces warring around her. I may return to her and her world at another time. Thanks for reading, and as always, I’d love to know what you think in the comments below.


Short Story Challenge | Week 17

Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story where the main character goes on a trip alone to gain perspective. We had to include the lighthouse, flock, muscle, sprinkle, insult, cliffhanger, cheetah, chartreuse, wrist, and seedling.


Write With Us

Next week’s prompt: A child’s dream literally becomes true

Include: high school, captivate, portfolio, argyle, witness, fertile, eyebrow, pentagram, thirsty, guidance


My 52 Week Challenge Journey

My love affair with the Goblin King

img_7026I can’t imagine sharing this moment with anyone else, so I take the kids out of school early to join me.

The theater lights go out and the first notes swell around us.

“It’s only forever.
Not long at all.
Lost and lonely.”

There are tears in my eyes as the digital owl swoops across the screen. My boy is happily shoving popcorn into his mouth and smiling. My girl grabs my hand and we share a mutual giggle of excitement.

It is a perfect moment.

The film unfolds in front of us, beautifully bright and with amazing sound, and I can’t stop smiling. It feels like sitting Christmas morning next to the twinkling tree surrounded by wrapping paper, warm coffee in my hand and the smell of freshly baking cinnamon rolls in the oven.

Yes, it feels that perfect.

To say I love the movie “Labyrinth” feels like saying I love my hands. It is a part of me in a way I find hard to explain or even separate from myself.

The story of Sarah, Jareth, Ludo and Hoggle has become as real to me as anything else. It feels more like memory than film. Like I can remember the time I fought my way to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child that was stolen.

I can remember it happening to me as clearly as I can remember the time I crashed my tricycle riding it down the driveway with my best friend. I can feel the black eye and the scrapped elbow, and the hands grabbing me as I plunged into the darkness of the oubliette.

I have similar connections to “Goonies,” “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (the original of course), “Princess Bride” and “The Muppet Christmas Carol”.

All of these stories have attached themselves to me in some way and helped shape how I look at the world, myself and my place in it. I find, much like my connection to music, I use these particular films as markers in my life and ways to reconnect with parts of myself whenever I am feeling lost.

“Labyrinth” is the one I turn to the most. Thanks to the talented and beautiful David Bowie (whose death I am not ready to talk about), it works on a visual and musical level to bring me back when nothing else will.

When I was in the dense darkness of depression, there was an intensity about me which I now find hard to fully recall. There was this sense of impending death and destruction which I wore close to me and it clouded every interaction I had.

It was in this place, I really leaned on my childish love of the Goblin King to save me.

***

I’m parked in front of my children’s school sobbing in the backseat of my minivan. Again. I’m crying so hard I can barely breath.

I want to either run away or die. I feel everything I have become is wrong and there is no way out of the darkness.

The Goblin King is sitting in his castle, much older now. There are wrinkles around his eyes, but his gaze is still fierce and intense. He is alone, the goblins no longer under his control because of the choice Sarah/I made. He is wearing layers of white and grey clothes, the silver and gold amulet sitting on his slightly exposed chest, the afternoon light through the castle windows making it appear he is glowing.

He is waiting for me to decide to call upon him again, so he can offer me his gift.

“I ask for so little. Just fear me, love me, do as I say and I will be your slave.”

In his left hand, he twirls three crystals slowly, a soft clinking sound filling the empty throne room and echoing off the vast stonewalls. In his right hand, he gazes into the crystal and watches me sob and clutch at my stomach.

He longs to wipe the tears from my face and save me.

“Say the words,” he whispers.

He sits on the edge of his seat now.

“Give everything up love. Surrender everything about yourself and I will take complete control. You won’t have to worry anymore.”

I sit up and consider giving myself to him. The words are on my tongue and I can feel his anticipation rising with mine.

Then the sounds of the playground break through and I’m dragged back.

No.

My children.

I want to be here struggling in the real world with my kids, my family, my friends and my problems. I can’t leave them. I can’t give myself to him.

I dry my own tears from my face and stare straight ahead.

I say the words loudly and clear.

“You have no power of me.”

By the time the kids get out of school, I’ve crawled out of the complete darkness and am partially back to myself. I’ve refuted the Goblin King’s offer again to take all my burdens from me and I carry them once again.

I can’t tell you how many times this story has played out in my head as I’ve cried.

Dozens?

Hundreds?

Whenever I’m in the place of utter despair, when I feel abandoned by God and love and everything good and decent in the world, I go there.

I picture him, my Goblin King, sitting there loving me, watching me and waiting for me.

It makes the darkness somehow more bearable and makes me feel special/separate/unique.

I’ve often judged myself harshly for these fantasies and told myself I need to grow up. Life doesn’t contain the magic you pretend it does.

But it does.

I’ve seen it.

My 11-year-old son running from across the playground at school to give me a hug and tell me he loves me, in front of his friends.

My daughter glowing with confidence and joy as she plays her keyboard in the early morning light, her hair looking like spun gold.

The smell of the pine trees after it rains as I walk inside the barn to a job with my best friend I can hardly believe is real.

Watching myself grow and become the person I’ve always wanted to be in ways I could not have predicted or imagined.

Is it really such a stretch to believe the Goblin King is watching me from his castle?

“Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child that you have stolen. For my will is as strong as yours, my kingdom is as great.

You have no power of me.”

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Last year I stumbled across this at the EMP Museum in Seattle. I may have cried.

Little Peppermint, the house fairy

You might be shocked to hear I don’t like Elf on the Shelf.

I know it is weeks past Christmas, but stay with me. It is relevant.

I don’t like the elf for lots of reasons, enough to fill an entire book and then some. I’ll spare you the long rant. Basically, I find an elf moving around the house at night creepy and I hate the pressure it puts on kids to be “good” and on parents to remember to move the damn thing.

There.

I know. Geez mom. Way to make it all about you.

According to my 8-year-old daughter, we are the ONLY family in the world to not have a spying elf and it isn’t fair. We had no less than 20 conversations revolving around the injustice of it all.

“Mom, you just don’t understand.”

Nope. I don’t.

“I will make it clothes.”

No.

“It will be fun.”

No.

“It is a good lesson to kids on being good.”

No.

She finally realized there was no budging on the issue and made her own. Only this little one isn’t an elf. She is a fairy, she is named Peppermint and she moves around the house the entire year.

THE ENTIRE YEAR.

Bam. Got you mom. Now you have to move the fairy around the house every day or I will lose faith in magic and shit like that.

At first, I played along and moved dear Peppermint all over the house. It was actually fun to pose her in the bowl of oranges on the counter, or hide her in the Christmas tree or have her hanging with baby Jesus in the nativity.

But I got busy.

And forgetful.

And tired.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a fun mom. I swear I am. I play dolls and games and tell stories.

I’m awesome.

But come on.

I have to remember to move the fairy every night.

Every. Single. Night.

It is too much.

Yesterday at breakfast, my girl tells me Peppermint hasn’t moved since a few days after Christmas.

“Mom,” she says. “Do you think Peppermint will ever move?”

I think I see tears in her eyes. Real tears, folks.

“I don’t know love,” I say and silently promise myself to move the damn fairy every day for the rest of my life. “I think she was just really tired from the holidays. I’m sure she will move soon.”

“I hope so,” she says.

Well-played daughter.

The second she is out the door, I take Peppermint out of the doll house bed and put her on the mantle holding a few candy canes.

Nailed it.

She comes home and notices right away.

“She moved!” she says.

“Yep.”

“Can’t wait to see what she will do tomorrow.”

Yep.

We leave the house an hour later for her keyboard lesson. My boy decides to stay home to work on his homework.

When we come back, Peppermint has moved again.

This time she is sitting with a doll playing a game my girl created the day before.

“Wow!” she says. “I can’t believe it.”

My boy comes over all smiles and snuggles up close to me.

“I will move Peppermint mom,” he whispers in my ear. “Just look how happy she is.”

And then my heart exploded.

peppermint

Looking for Tooth Fairy ideas? You won’t find them here

teeth

This bowl of teeth lives in the back of my closet.

It’s gross.

Really gross.

It’s a mixture of both kids’ teeth and there is no reason for them to be there. None. Except I can’t throw them out and I have no plan.

I never really thought this whole Tooth Fairy job out.

It just sort of happened.

I can remember when my son had his first wiggly tooth.

“Shit!?! That is happening already,” I remember thinking. Guess I need to figure out what I’m going to do.

I typed “Tooth Fairy ideas” into Google (this was before Pinterest was big, if you can imagine such a time). There were some wonderful ideas that I was absolutely going to make. I remember this organizer that had little pockets that you sew and then you embroidered the tooth location and date it was lost. It rolled up and was just perfect.

I was going to be the best Tooth Fairy ever.

In a way, it’s precious how cute I was. I was all excited about baby teeth and thought it was going to be a lovely memento of their childhood I’d cherish forever.

Adorable.

While that clearly didn’t happen, I did manage to make a little pillow to hold the tooth. I sewed it by hand out of an old wool sweater and needle-felted a fairy on the front. It’s just darling. I wanted to take a picture of it to show you, but it’s lost in my son’s room.

Gone forever.

It was replaced with something he crafted out of Lego’s several teeth ago anyway.

Who needs that pillow mom took 200 hours crafting?

Luckily the first teeth are loose for some time and I got the pillow made before the first baby tooth left the mouth.

However, that is as far as my planning went.

We were at the State Fair and my boy’s tooth fell out while he was eating a hot dog.

It was such an exciting moment for him. He was so happy and kept telling everyone we met.

Me? I was screaming inside, “oh no!! I don’t have anything ready and we are going to get home late from the fair and I’m so TIRED!”

Did I just give him a quarter and call it a day?

Nope.

I put his tooth into a little jar in my closet, promising myself that I’d figure out something great before the next tooth.

Then I stayed up until well after midnight needle-felting a little cow (since he was obsessed with cows at the time). I wrote a lengthy letter to him in teensy-tiny writing about how happy I was he finally lost his first tooth. It might even have rhymed. I sprinkled glitter all over his bed.

Basically, I set the bar WAY too high folks.

Way. Too. High.

I established the expectation that the Tooth Fairy crafts you little things AND writes you heartfelt letters.

You’d think after making such a bold decision, that I’d use all my spare time to stock up on some little handcrafted gifts for when the next tooth fell out.

Nope.

Every single time I am handed a blooded stump of tooth, I’m caught off guard. As if I have no idea that they are going to keep losing teeth.

The Tooth Fairy would then stay up all night trying to pull together something amazing.

Beeswax angels.

Needle felted dragons.

Hand sewn hearts stuffed with lavender.

Ridiculously tiny letters gushing about how beautiful they are inside and out.

But lately, my boy has started losing his molars. I don’t remember losing teeth at 10-years-old, but his dentist assures me this is a real thing and he is not just yanking them out.

I actually asked that.

The first molar fell out at the most inconvenient of times. Dad was out-of-town, mom had crafted all day and he was supposed to be sleeping.

“My tooth fell out,” he screams as I finally settle in to watch an old episode of “Saturday Night Live” with a beer in hand at 9 p.m.

“I thought you were asleep,” I mutter and usher him back to bed.

I had no creative juices left. Nothing.

After scouring the house for 10 minutes, I shoved $5 in his Lego contraption, made a trail of little gems around it and called it a night.

“Mom,” my boy says crawling into bed the next morning. “The Tooth Fairy left me money and no note. That’s the first time she didn’t write me.”

He seemed disappointed and let down.

I was too.

So the next night, right at bedtime, he pulled out another tooth.

I’m not kidding.

Dad was still out-of-town and I had no cash left.

I scoured my craft supplies for something to make and I had nothing.

Not a single idea.

So I gathered up some quarters and wrote him a long note about how much the Tooth Fairy can’t believe he has grown and that it was time she gave him a “Fairy Kiss.”

I sprinkled glitter all over his face and his bed.

“Mom!” he came running in the next morning. “The Fairy left me a kiss. Look! It’s on my cheek.”

I patted myself on the back and basked in his happiness.

While this Tooth Fairy isn’t perfect, sometimes she pulls it off. There are moments of magic that I’ve been lucky enough to create for my children that I will forever cherish.

No, I am not as organized as I’d like to be.

I don’t know what I’m going to do with that mixed jar of teeth. I don’t know what I’m doing the next time a tooth falls out. I’m not even sure what we are having for dinner tonight.

But sometimes I create magic.

And that’s everything.

Letter to my boy: Tenderness, love and magic

My dearest Cooper,

cooperWhen you came up to me this morning and rubbed your head against my back you may have missed my smile. I know I was busy making breakfast and packing lunches, but I noticed your little purr and the soft way you said “mamma.” I might have barked at you to get ready, but inside my heart was melting at the way you are still so tender and loving.

You are almost 9 years old and that’s huge. All the things I read about that age tell me that you will stop believing in magic and that you are going to change this year. I have been bracing myself for it. I’m going to do my best to be OK with this change. I promise.

But right now, I want to capture the beauty that is you.

Every time I find you snuggled in your stuffy pit talking sweetly to your little friends, I can’t help but swoon. I love the little voices you use and the way you treat them all like living beings in your care.

When we were driving home from school the other day, you started gushing about how much you love stories about fairytale creatures, talking animals and magic. Your love for reading and books is amazing. You are a bit like your mom, son.

I push you to get ready every morning and you get so mad at me. You want to sit and read. You want to cuddle with your stuffed animals and me. It hurts me to literally push you away and make you get ready. It’s the way of the world, my love. We have to do our jobs and yours is to learn. But know that my heart aches for you all day.

Although it may not seem like it, I look forward to our laying in bed reading every night. I’m so filled with joy that you still let me read to you. I love sharing in new stories and love how we both say, “just one more chapter” until daddy tells us we need to go to bed.

Then the kisses. Still the same pattern of kisses you started at age three. Forehead, eyes, cheeks, chin, 8 on the nose (soon to be 9) and then the lips. I sometimes rush through them eager for my time alone, but you always grab my face and slow it down. You make me be in moment with you and I love that about you.

There is a tenderness of spirit about you that draws people to you. I see it at school. All the children in your class love you and it’s much deserved. You do not try to compete or make others feel bad. You share everything you have and rarely ask for anything. Your heart is so big.

This is where my fear for you comes in. The world is not a kind place. You have already learned a little about cancer, death and divorce. You have asked me lots of questions and I always answer them honestly. But you don’t really know about how mean, awful and horrible people can be.

There are people who are going to see your kindness as weakness. They are going to use you. I hope to teach you that these people are not worthy of your attention and love, but I know that you will have to learn some lessons the hard way.

I wish I could shield you from the pain headed your way. But I can’t. You will someday find out that magic is not real in the sense you believe it now. It will make you so sad and upset. It did me. But know this, my love, that some magic is real. I hope you can see it and believe and that the fall isn’t too hard for you.

Someday soon your going to tell me that you hate your yellow room that still has all the decorations I loving put up when I was pregnant with you. When that happens I will try, with all my might, to be gracious and understanding. I will let you design your own space and will be excited to see what you come up with.

Each day you grow more into your own person. Your starting to write now and I love reading your silly stories about Pie Trees and Super Dogs. Then you write something like this: “In my mind, sight does not exist.” Wow.

I love how you can stare for hours at catalogs of toys that you want, but still ask Santa and the Elves for a surprise. “It’s the most important part,” you say. You have such joy and unwavering faith. You never question magic. You just believe.

When you sit and read to your sister I can’t even tell you how proud that makes me. You sound out the words so patiently with her. When she yells at you, which she eventually does, you stop. I can see your hurt and sometimes you are brought to tears by her. But you know that she loves you more than anything else and your quick forgiveness and acceptance of her is one of your greatest strengths.

When I asked you what part you want in the class play, you responded, “I’m not good at that stuff, so I probably won’t get a big part.” No! I don’t want you to limit yourself. Don’t label yourself as not good at something. I tried, and failed, to convey that to you. Your anger and annoyance at me was a clear sign that I needed to back off, and I did. I just want you to know, and believe, that you can do anything you want. ANYTHING!

Yesterday I started karate class. I had been talking about it for a long time and you kept encouraging me to go. I was panicked and almost didn’t do it. I showed that vulnerability to you and told you how scared I was to try something new. You said, “Just do it mom. You will be great! I was scared at first too, but look how good I am now.”

You were right. It was so fun. Seeing how proud you were of me was BY FAR the best part. I loved how you spent time this morning showing me the correct way to pivot my foot for a round-house kick. It’s so fun to share in something you love so much. I can’t wait to go again and learn more.

I CAN do anything, just like you. We can learn and test that together my boy.

I am headed to your class today to celebrate Chanukah with you. I know you won’t acknowledge I am there, you rarely do. But that’s OK. I will observe you and love you from afar. I always will.

Rarely do I take a moment to really marvel at how wonderful it is to be your mother. Today it hit me hard and brought me to tears. You make everything I do worth it. You are my light and I am so honored to be your mom.

Love you more than anything,

Your mamma

karate